Master Works on Vellum

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Michael Parkes is the world's leading magical realist painter, sculptor and stone lithographer. His decades of success as a fine artist stand out in the art world and his body of work stands for the ages. That being said, Parkes continues to create new works with the latest being his Masterworks on vellum which is truly revolutionary.

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Literally from the first day that I walked into the stone lithograph atelier outside of Zurich, Switzerland in 1982 to make my first stone lithograph, I began working on vellum. The stone lithography process entails transferring an image multiple times where the registration has to be exact. The transparency of the vellum and its extra weight made it perfect for lying on the stone and drawing the transfer designs for the different colors. Over the years while working on a stone, I found myself also making notes and sketches on scrap pieces of vellum for future stone lithography ideas. The material was so enjoyable to work on that I preferred it to a paper sketchbook. At the end of each session in Switzerland, I started to bring these vellum sketches and ideas back to my studio as references for future stone lithographs or often for the beginnings of paintings. The years of these sketches built up to quite a composite of ideas. It never occurred to me that this material could be used to produce a finished product until my long experience with stone lithography came to an end in 2007 with the retirement of my master printers. About a year later I posted a video on YouTube explaining my painting techniques. In the video there is one passing moment when I open the vellum drawer to show the viewers what I had collected throughout the years. Dianne Borsini-Burr of Borsini-Burr Gallery saw that 3 second moment of opening the drawer and wanted to know more about the collection. This prompted me to reexamine the idea of these sketches becoming a more complete art form. Ironically this was easier to accomplish than I would have originally thought because I used the multiple layered techniques learned in stone lithography in the creating of a colored finished drawing. So instead of doing each color separately and printing it for an edition of stone lithography, I laid one color transparently on top of another on one sheet of vellum to create a unique one of a kind drawing. Velum however is not like paper and it takes a different technique of drawing to slowly build up the subtle colors. Everything drawn must be transparent to a certain extent because the idea of the vellum drawings is that the light passes through all the layers of color and then reflects off a white background back to the viewer. That is the reason for this strange ghostlike quality to the drawings. Light is a composite to the finished product. After the postitive response to the first few vellum drawings, Dianne Borsini-Burr suggested an entire exhibition of these vellums. I was very skeptical that a collective group of these soft, illusive drawings could have the strength to create an effective impact for a strong exhibition. Every artist knows when the strength of the exhibition as a whole is significant enough, it is more than the sum of the individual pieces. And it was a success! Now that I had an ever increasing demand for the drawings, I ran into a unique and somewhat paradoxical situation. The ideal next step for me as an artist would be to take some of the ideas from these vellum drawings and recreate them as stone lithographic editions. However there was no longer a printer, either working or alive, who could successfully print them. It was then suggested, why not turn to the giclee process and print on hannemuler etching paper to try to create the subtle effects that are present in stone lithography? With the help of Marcel Salome, a master printer and booksmith in Amsterdam, we began to research the possibilities of techniques that could reproduce the subtlety of these drawings transferred from the vellum originals to paper. Keep in mind, the effect of the vellums is created by light passing through the color and hitting a white ground bouncing back to the viewer. When these drawings are printed on paper the images must be translated to a completely different material and still hold the quality, or a translation of that quality, on to paper. Now, for the first time, and after considerable testing we are able to show you a limited edition print on vellum with the identical luminosity and quality of the vellum originals a completely new creation, thus the term Masterworks on Vellum. ...to be continued!